We are all battered by the sad news of the horrific and senseless acts of gun violence across our nation. People are grieving and in anguish trying to find a good answer to why and how such tragic incidents continue to happen. We are a nation that takes pride as a land of freedom, liberty and peace; a country founded on the principles of trust in God, of love, compassion and mercy, especially for those coming into our shores — the tired, battered and poor brothers and sisters who need our help. Yet we are sunk in a quagmire of hateful division and painful fragmentation in every facet of our society socially, politically, economically and even religiously.
It seems that we have somehow lost our identity and destiny and have failed to live up to the noble ideals of our nation. Instead of being instruments of peace, artisans of bridges of unity and agents of transformation for a better world, we embraced a culture of death that has contributed to the demise of the goodness of humanity, the desecration of the sanctity of life and degradation of human dignity. We have failed to recognize the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed and the marginalized in our society. Instead, we have not only succumbed to the culture of global insensitivity and callousness to their plight and suffering, who are the focus of our compassion and love, but made them the target of blame for the woes and misery in our midst.
The expected reaction of anyone to human tragedies, irrespective of their religious affiliation or belief, is sympathy — that is, the sensitivity to feel the suffering of the other. It is disheartening that what we see and hear is the appalling reactions devoid of civility. Hatred and violence are reciprocated with more vitriolic speeches and finger-pointing that only widen the gap of our division and partisanship in our nation and society.
I wonder and pray whether we can regain our sensibilities. Perhaps it might help if we stop to observe, think and reflect deeply on what is happening around us and realize that what we need now is more tenderness, sympathy, compassion, love and care for one another.
I wish government leaders would stop blaming one another and end their spewing of hateful rhetoric. Instead, they should carry out their sacred responsibility to enact laws that will prevent such tragedies from happening again to ensure that the needs of the unborn, the sick, the homeless, unemployed, including health care, are afforded to them, as well as laws that will promote decency and care for one another, including minorities and the marginalized. It might be nice if for once, our leaders can all sit together to find ways to ensure the safety of everyone and model for us the spirit of unity and solidarity that defines who we are as a nation.
In the midst of this ugliness, we can still recapture the beautiful spirit of America and transform these tragedies into a moment of hope. It is never too late to restore the goodness in our hearts — our core moral values — and manifest these in concrete actions of kindness and care for each other. We start with the humble recognition of our own failings, sharing the responsibility for the pain, grief and suffering that our entire nation is experiencing brought about by inequality, injustice, hatred and bigotry.
Our society needs to reclaim a moral compass that will redirect us to the path of civility, respect and care for each other’s welfare. It takes more than changing gun control laws to prevent further senseless violence and loss of innocent lives. We need a cultural shift away from glorified violence and licentiousness and the idea of freedom without responsibility or accountability. It is a time for a radical change of our hearts and our attitudes toward others different from us, especially those with different sexual orientations, and the migrants and refugees fleeing their homes, knocking on our borders and seeking a place of peace, justice and a better life.
However, we accomplish change not through our efforts alone, but with the help of God who never abandons us. Let us pray for all the victims of the shooting incidents, their families and communities suffering in grief, for our government and political leaders, emergency responders and medical personnel, for our nation. We also pray for ourselves to have the moral conviction and steadfastness to be the instruments of change to build the better world God has designed for us. May God’s mercy be upon us that love, compassion, reconciliation and peace prevail once again.
The Most Rev. Oscar A. Solis is the 10th bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.